Hubble is back! Despite over 28 years in service, it continues to provide us with incredible science and spectacular images. After it went into “safe mode” on October 5, a team of engineers and experts have worked tirelessly for three weeks to make sure the space telescope is operational again. And their hard work has paid off.
On October 27, Hubble turned its eye to a small patch of sky in the constellation of Pegasus. It snapped a field of star-forming galaxies 11 billion light-years away, when the universe was at its most active with respect to newborn stars.
"This has been an incredible saga, built upon the heroic efforts of the Hubble team," Hubble senior project scientist Jennifer Wiseman, from NASA Goddard, said in a statement. "Thanks to this work, the Hubble Space Telescope is back to full science capability that will benefit the astronomical community and the public for years to come."
To turn and lock onto a target, Hubble uses gyroscopes. It has six of them, but two have failed since the last servicing mission in 2009. In early October, one of the gyroscopes began spinning at a higher rate than expected, which pushed the telescope into safe mode. Without a backup gyroscope, the team would need to consider alternative approaches to guarantee the longevity of the telescope. It is possible to operate the space observatory with a single gyroscope, but it would significantly limit the targets it can study.
The space telescope team was all over it. Some experts were working on the problem at hand to see if there was a way to solve it, while others focused on what the one-gyro mode would look like. They didn’t know if they could recover the misbehaving one and thus had to be prepared. While the work on the one-gyro will be useful one day, they were able to fix the problem remotely.
"Many team members made personal sacrifices to work long shifts and off-shifts to ensure the health and safety of the observatory, while identifying a path forward that was both safe and effective," said Hubble's Project Manager, Pat Crouse. "The recovery of the gyro is not only vital for the life expectancy of the observatory, but Hubble is most productive in three-gyro mode, and extending this historic period of productivity is a main objective for the mission. Hubble will continue to make amazing discoveries when it is time to operate in one-gyro mode, but due to the tremendous effort and determination of the mission team, now is not the time."